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Pope Liberius

Pope Liberius Baptizing Neophytes (c. 1648) Alessandro Algardi
Pope Liberius Baptizing Neophytes
 by Alessandro Algardi (c. 1648)

36th Pontiff (352-366)

Pope Liberius, a Roman, became pope on April 17, 352, amid the Arian crisis of the 4th century.

Arians believed that Jesus was not identical in substance to the Father.  Church doctrine ascribes to the homoousion formula which identifies the Divinity of Christ and states that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father, a dogma affirmed at the First Vatican Council at Nicaea in 325.

The Arian Emperor of the day, Constantius, claimed "My will is the canon."  The emperor claimed to rule the Church.

Emperor Constantius knew he had no hope of uniting Christians by a semi-Arian formula if Pope Liberius continued to defend orthodoxy.  Saint Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria (32873), Doctor of the Church, champion of orthodoxy, professed the infallible doctrine taught by the Council of Nicaea.

Emperor Constantius, at a council held in Milan in 353, demanded that Saint Athanasius be condemned and warned the bishops to obey the emperor or face exile.  Some bishops refused, and they were promptly banished.

Pope Liberius refused to sign the condemnation of Saint Athanasius, so Emperor Constantius tried, unsuccessfully, to bribe Pope Liberius.  Emperior Constantius then exiled Pope Liberius and named the antipope, Felix II.

Weakened by two years of exile and wishing to return to Rome, Pope Liberius withdrew his support of the Nicaean dogma on the Divinity of Christ by agreeing to an Arian formula that declared the Son is "like" the Father. Then, Pope Liberius proceeded to condemn and excommunicate Saint Athanasius. These actions were considered heresy by many.  Once Pope Liberius submitted, Emperor Constantius recalled Pope Liberius from exile, and the antipope, Felix II, was expelled by the Romans.

After his return, Pope Liberius continued to fight for orthodoxy. He had the satisfaction of seeing the Arians split into factions and then rapidly decline.

Pope Liberius died September 24, 366 and was buried at the cemetery of Priscilla in a catacomb on the Via Salaria in Rome.

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